Breaking Down the Wild 2013 NBA Playoff Race in Season's Final Leg
With the final day of the NBA regular season in the books, all of the shakeups in the standings are finally over. The playoff matchups are set.
Coming into a busy Wednesday, the Eastern Conference had its eight teams locked up (and it had for a while), but there was still a bit of jostling left to do for positioning.
Meanwhile, the Western Conference had a close race bubbling for the seventh and eighth spots, along with the kneeing and elbowing that come with the last few games of the season.
Once the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Lakers figured out who was going to get the sixth, seventh and eighth spots in the West, we had our final 16 locked up, and from there we could start to take a look at what each matchup could evolve into.
Wednesday evening marked the final day of the regular season, so let's take a look at how each team moved around.
No. 1 Eastern Conference: Miami Heat
First-Round Opponent: Milwaukee Bucks
The Miami Heat won their final game of the regular season, which meant nothing. South Beach's fate has been etched in stone for quite some time.
LeBron James and crew will be facing the Milwaukee Bucks in the opening round of the playoffs, against whom they were 3-1 during the regular season.
Miami also maintains home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, the NBA Finals included.
No. 2 Eastern Conference: New York Knicks
First-round opponent: Boston Celtics
All hands were not on deck in the New York Knicks' final regular-season game against the Atlanta Hawks, but they still managed to squeeze out a victory.
The New York Knicks will be facing the Boston Celtics in the postseason's inaugural round, where they will hope to exact revenge on Beantown for sweeping them in the first round in 2011.
New York was 3-1 on the year against Boston, and will look to assert its dominance over a gritty Celtics after already having won its first division title since 1994.
Carmelo Anthony will also be looking to advance to at least the second round for just the second time of his now 10-year career.
No. 3 Eastern Conference: Indiana Pacers
First-Round Opponent: Atlanta Hawks
The Indiana Pacers lost their final game of the season against the Philadelphia 76ers, but theirs was another contest that meant absolutely nothing.
With the Chicago Bulls' win over the Washington Wizards, the Atlanta Hawks remained the sixth seed, so it is they who the Pacers will meet in the first round.
Indiana finished the regular season 2-2 against Atlanta.
No. 4 Eastern Conference: Brooklyn Nets
First-Round Opponent: Chicago Bulls
Like the teams ahead of them in the standings, the Brooklyn Nets were locked into the fourth overall seed in the Eastern Conference heading into the last day of the regular season.
Despite their final game having no effect on their placement, the Nets played their starters and pulled out a victory over the Detroit Pistons.
A Chicago Bulls win over the Washington Wizards ensured that the Nets would be facing the Windy City's finest in the first round. Brooklyn was 1-3 during the regular season against Chicago.
With Derrick Rose still unsure if he'll return at some point, this will be a complex matchup for the Nets to prepare for.
No. 5 Eastern Conference: Chicago Bulls
First-Round Opponent: Brooklyn Nets
The Chicago Bulls clinched the Eastern Conference's fifth seed with a win over the Washington Wizards in their final game of the regular season.
Chicago's victory set the team up with a first-round bout against the Brooklyn Nets, who they are 3-1 against on the year.
Though moving up a spot puts the Bulls right in line for a second-round date with the Miami Heat, it provides them with a better chance at making it that far in the first place.
And the longer their season the lasts, the more chances Derrick Rose has to return to action.
No. 6 Eastern Conference: Atlanta Hawks
First-Round Opponent: Indiana Pacers
The Atlanta Hawks relinquished control of the fifth seed, lost to the New York Knicks and now have a set date with the Indiana Pacers in the first round.
That might sound disappointing, but they were 2-2 against Indiana during the regular season.
They've now also assured they won't have to see the Heat in the second round—in the unlikely event that they knock off the Pacers.
No. 7 Eastern Conference: Boston Celtics
First-Round Opponent: New York Knicks
The Toronto Raptors pummeled the Boston Celtics in the final day of the regular season, but that game was more about Boston resting up for their series against the New York Knicks.
Although the Celtics are just 1-3 against the Knicks on the year, they're no strangers to making embattled playoff runs (see last season).
Both Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce will have their work cut out them without Rajon Rondo running the offense, but Boston will still be a tough out even for a surging team like New York.
No. 8 Eastern Conference: Milwaukee Bucks
The Milwaukee Bucks are stuck with the worst destiny of any NBA playoff team in the first round, staring at a series against the Miami Heat, who they are 1-3 against on the year.
With its horrible month of basketball, coasting to a 6-15 record since March 12, Milwaukee made its bed and now it's going to have to lie in it.
The Bucks get the distinction of being that one team (usually Eastern Conference) that looks like they have no business making the playoffs that everybody points to when they start hooting and hollering about changing playoff rules.
Still, they're in the playoffs, and who knows what could happen from there? Perhaps they could end up fiddling their way around to a few wins against the Heat.
No. 1 Western Conference: Oklahoma City Thunder
First-Round Opponent: Miami Heat
It was time for the Oklahoma City Thunder to sit back and relax when the Milwaukee Bucks came into town.
They had nothing to gain from playing their starters, as a win over the Sacramento Kings and a San Antonio loss to Golden State allowed them to clinch the top spot in the Western Conference.
Not only that, but Kevin Durant was nearly 70 points behind Carmelo Anthony in the scoring title race, so there was really nothing left to play for.
Oklahoma City will play the James Harden-led Houston Rockets in the opening round. The Thunder hold the 3-1 season-series edge heading in and, let's face it, this matchup seems fitting.
They began the year by shipping Harden off Houston, and their road to another Western Conference title (and NBA Finals appearance) must now go through him.
No. 2 Western Conference: San Antonio Spurs
First-Round Opponent: Los Angeles Lakers
As was expected, the San Antonio Spurs threw in the towel on the top overall seed in the Western Conference and opted instead to rest their starters.
A loss to the Golden State Warriors featured a starting lineup of Cory Joseph, Danny Green, DeJuan Blair, Matt Bonner and Tiago Splitter, with Aron Baynes filling in the sixth man role.
Much like the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio got to hang out on Wednesday night with a home game against the Minnesota Timberwolves and simply watched as the playoff picture unfolded in front of them.
What they saw hardly riveted them, and I'm not talking about the loss to the Timberwolves.
By beating the Houston Rockets, the Los Angeles Lakers snagged the west's seventh seed.
The Spurs were 3-1 against Los Angeles during the regular season, and the Lakers will be without Kobe Bryant, but still, it's hardly an ideal matchup for the Western Conference's second-best team.
No. 3 Western Conference: Denver Nuggets
First-Round Opponent: Golden State Warriors
With a win over the Milwaukee Bucks, the Denver Nuggets did a ton to clear up the logjam for the third, fourth and fifth spot in the Western Conference.
They officially grabbed home-court advantage for the first round, meaning the only thing left to be determined was who got to land at No. 3 and who lands at No. 4.
Denver beat the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday to claim that third seed.
Now, the Nuggets will draw the Golden State Warriors—who they were 3-1 against on the year—in what's sure to be a fast-paced, competitive first-round series.
No. 4 Western Conference: Los Angeles Clippers
First-Round Opponent: Memphis Grizzlies
The main goal on the Clippers' mind was avoiding the Oklahoma City Thunder in the second round by winning the final game of the season.
Beating the Sacramento Kings wasn't enough to get that done, as the Denver Nuggets held onto the No. 3 seed in the West.
Now, the Clips will have to take on the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round, with whom they always seem to have ulcer-inducing back-and-forth games. They were, however, 3-1 against the Grizz during the regular season.
Seven straight wins to close the season have to make the Clips feel good. But they'd sure have preferred to creep up to that third seed.
Of course, Los Angeles is in uncharted territory these days, and playoff seeding is a good problem to have for the historically lottery-bound franchise.
No. 5 Western Conference: Memphis Grizzlies
First-Round Opponent: Los Angeles Clippers
The Memphis Grizzlies still had home-court advantage to play for in their final game of the regular season, but while they did their part by beating the Utah Jazz, a Los Angeles Clippers victory over the Sacramento Kings erased that hope.
Memphis will have to get itself ready for a tough test against the Clips, against whom the Grizzlies won just once in four tries this year.
It was also Los Angeles who sent them home in the first round last year. This will prove to be either the perfect time to avenge their collapse in 2012, or the inopportune to rehash bad memories.
No. 6 Western Conference: Golden State Warriors
First-Round Opponent: Denver Nuggets
The Golden State Warriors did themselves a huge favor by beating the San Antonio Spurs as the Houston Rockets fell to the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday.
Not only did that give them back control of their own destiny, but it meant that they couldn't end up in a three-way tie with Houston and the Los Angeles Lakers, which would have meant the eighth seed for the Warriors.
When Golden State beat the Portland Trail Blazers, it secured the sixth seed and avoided playing either the Oklahoma City Thunder or the Spurs in the first round. A Rockets loss also ensured the Warriors finish sixth.
The Denver Nuggets are up next, who Golden State was just 1-3 against during the regular season.
No. 7 Western Conference: Los Angeles Lakers
First-Round Opponent: San Antonio Spurs
Surprisingly, the Los Angeles Lakers ended up with a better seed than we assumed, and a slightly more beneficial matchup, thanks to a season-ending win over the Houston Rockets.
The San Antonio Spurs are on deck. While the Lakers are just 1-3 against them this year and still navigating life without Kobe Bryant, they've found ways to wind.
And now that Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol appear to have figured out how to play together, who knows what's on tap for the resurgent Lakers?
Well, we do know they avoided a first-round matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and for now, that's enough.
No. 8 Western Conference: Houston Rockets
First-Round Opponent: Oklahoma City Thunder
The Houston Rockets let the Los Angeles Lakers hang around for as long as possible, and now that generosity has come back to bite them.
For the last few weeks leading up to the final games of the season, it seemed as if the Rockets and Lakers would be playing a meaningful game on the final day of the season, but it would be under the guise of separate circumstances.
Oh how wrong we were. That game wound up meaning everything.
Now that the Rockets have fallen to the Lakers., they're stuck with the highly entertaining, but ultimately sub-optimal matchup against James Harden's former team—Oklahoma City Thunder.
Houston was just 1-3 against Oklahoma City during the regular season, meaning the Rockets have their work cut out for them if they wish to pull off the upset.